Drones can give emergency responders safe, accurate, closeup look at danger

Fire officials get demonstration at UC lab
Posted at 11:57 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 06:34:42-04

CINCINNATI - Keeping emergency crews safe in dangerous situations like Wednesday's train derailment may get easier thanks to the growing use of drones.

When a train carrying hazardous materials jumped the tracks in Falmouth, Kentucky,  hazmat crews were sent in to see if any of the dangerous chemicals were leaking.

They later found that there was no leak.

But exposing emergency workers to that kind of risk could become less frequent in the near future.

Police and firefighters gathered at the University of Cincinnati's Unmanned Aerial Vehicle lab to learn how drones could be their first eyes on a disaster.

"Any time there's a hazardous materials incident, you can get ahead of the incident to see where all this is going, so we can start doing proper plume modeling and that," said Monroe Township Fire Chief William "B.J." Jetter.

"Drones can help you get a very accurate situational awareness, " said UC Aerospace Engineering Professor Kelly Cohen. "What's happening? Where is it happening? And how bad is the situation?"

As students demonstrated how the drones work, organizers of the session weren't calling officers' acceptance a slam dunk.

"Cautious optimism is the key term to use here," Cohen said.

"All of us are looking at - from the new recruit firefighter all the way up to the chief -   the critical factors that are involved in every incident that we deal with," Jetter said.

Still,  Jetter, with the Greater Cincinnati Hazmat Unit, believes UAVs can be a useful tool.

"Sometimes you're looking at an incident one way, but there's actually three ways to look at it," he said.  "I think that's where the UAV comes in handy, because it gives you that 360 view that you need."

The FAA is expected to announce new licensing rules later this month.

"I'd say within the next six months to a year, you're going to see it in service," Jetter said.